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B&N Week 90: Be A Better Creator–Barriers Of Entry

| September 11, 2012

It’s Tuesday once again? I could have sworn it was Tuesday just yesterday… Time flies, doesn’t it?

We’re still talking about how to be a better creator. This week, though, I want to talk about the barriers of entry. If you want to be in comics, then you have to understand what your barriers are, why they’re there, and what you can do about them.

For getting into comics, the barriers of entry are ridiculously low. You don’t have to do more than draw on some paper, photocopy it, distribute it, and you’re in comics. It doesn’t get any easier than that. It starts to get expensive when you start to add production value to it: better art and writing, printing, paper, and more. (A LOT more!) [Yes, a lot more.]

Know your barriers, and why they’re there. A good portion of you want to work for Marvel/DC. A very good portion of you. Your barriers to entry there are simple: their doors are closed to you unless you’ve done work elsewhere, especially Marvel. For Marvel, unless you’ve made your mark either in another medium such as novels or television, or in doing your own books through Image or a self-publishing venture that has a high profile project, then you’d be wasting your time trying to go through them for work. This is the current climate, and can change at any moment. However, most of the editors at these two houses will tell you to do work elsewhere that they can look at before looking to submit to them.

Basically, have a voice, and have an audience. That’s what they’re looking for. If you don’t have either, you don’t have a job with them.

Those doors are closed to most of us. Those are the breaks.

Next  are the mid-tier publishers, the biggest of which is Image. And by “biggest,” I mean in prestige, not necessarily in marketshare. Marketshare fluctuates month to month, but no company outside of Marvel and DC have more prestige than Image. It is notoriously hard to crack that nut, because you aren’t getting any help from them. You have to go to them with an already polished comic and proposal, and it better be original and salable. And even with all of that, you still may not get in.

Other places, such as Dark Horse, Archaia, and others, either have a submissions policy or submissions editors that are looking for something that fits within their company standards of publishing.

Just because you wrote Pen-Man doesn’t necessarily mean that Dark Horse is going to publish it. The look may be wrong, the story may be wrong, or maybe the editor got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning. They decide to pass on your project. Either it doesn’t fit, or it just doesn’t have that spark to make them think it’s salable.

Being salable is extremely important. The publisher is taking a chance with you and your project, and if it isn’t salable, then you just wasted time and money.

ComixTribe has barriers of entry. While we aren’t actively looking for or taking submissions, we’ll still look at things that are sent to us, and we’ll give our assessment on the project. Some projects didn’t make it through because of art, some because they could be easily seen as derivative of something else, and others because the stories were murky. And I’m talking about books that generally were otherwise gorgeous. And we passed.

Barriers of entry.

Why are there barriers to entry? Why does it feel like the entire world is against you and what it is you want to do? Why is it so damned difficult to make a name for yourself in your chosen field?

It’s really quite simple. The barriers are there for quality control. The higher quality your comic is, the easier it will be to get noticed and start making a name for yourself. You’ve heard the adage: if everyone is special, then no one is special, right? Well, that is very, very true. And even though you’re a creator, and that makes you special, you’re more than likely no different than the guy sitting next to you, or the gal sitting across from you.

Everyone wants to make a name for themselves. Know what that means? Basically, that they’re able to make a living off what they do. The very simple fact is that very few creators are able to make a living off comics. They may do work ancillary to comics, like sketch cards, but few people are able to make a living on comic work. Lots of us do work on the side, either in order to make ends meet, or for health insurance.

Here’s something I want you to think about. The barriers are there to prevent crap from getting through. When you strip it down to its bare essentials, that’s what the barriers are for. As long as you understand that on a fundamental level, then you should stop creating crap.

Editors are there to prevent crap from being published. Diamond is there to prevent crap from being distributed. [Diamond’s mission is to sell comics. Sometimes, they miss, but generally, they’re pretty on the ball. If they didn’t pick up your book, then you’re not there yet.] You can’t just throw crap at the wall and hope something sticks. You ever go through the Diamond catalogue? I mean, fine-toothed combed it? There are a LOT of books in there, with various levels of quality. If you’re not able to get in, then you should really look at your book a lot closer.

Digital. Sure, you can make a digital comic and try to sell it that way. Just know where money gets spent. [Not to turn this into a platform war, but more money is spent in the Apple ecosystem than Google’s Android ecosystem. That’s all I’ll say about that.] Know if the platform/ecosystem is taking money off the top, if the digital distributor takes money off the top, and how often they pay out.

There is the possibility of making money in digital. Some things to remember about it: more than likely, you’re not getting into comiXology [they are the Diamond of digital, and really, in some ways, they’re even worse]; digital isn’t yet the “it” thing; and the companies aren’t sticking around like we thought they were two years ago. Digital is still the new frontier, where anything can happen. The barrier there is low, but the space is crowded.

Know what else is crowded? Webcomics. Extremely low barrier there. However, that barrier is also much, much tougher. You’re on your own, toiling sometimes for years, against a sea of others who are doing the exact same thing. You’ll be living and dying completely on your own merits. That means constant updates. That means putting your head down and doing the work. That means…

The only barrier is you.

That’s pretty deep when you think about it. You have to do the work, be constant, be good, and hope to get noticed. You don’t have to worry about being rejected by anyone but the public. That would be the ultimate rejection, and it’s scary.

Want to be a better creator? Know the barriers of entry. Understand them. And then work to overcome them.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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